Amendment 4 – Vote NO!
Conservation easements are good; let's get that out straight. They assist in preserving pristine land across Florida for future generations. However, Amendment 4 is much more than preserving land and preventing development.
First, it could very well allow ALL land owners holding an "agricultural assessment" or other currently non-developed property designation to declare a "PERMANENT conservation easement", whether the land was even developable or not! Declaring a conservation easement means they will not pay ANY property taxes and other local taxpayers will have to make up the shortfall! Some opponents indicate this is not good politics to not support the basic infrastructure of their county.
Secondly, although the Amendment is leaving it up to the Florida Legislature to define "conservation", in recent years ALL attempts to redefine what constitutes an agricultural assessment has been soundly defeated in favor of the agricultural and development interests; much to the detriment of regular home owners. We need a better amendment to know who will qualify and the resulting costs to each county!
Third, since the Florida Taxation and Reform Commission did NOT perform a standard Staff Financial Impact Analysis, taxpayers and, most especially, County Appraisal Offices statewide have absolutely no idea how this reduction in taxes will affect their county's operating budgets.
Personally, I was able to make a BASELINE estimate of a $4 million impact to Leon County where I live, should ALL 1800 current properties designated as agricultural take the "permanent" exemption. This amount, however, does NOT include the many other properties which could possibly take the "non-permanent" exemption; again, lowering a county's tax base even further!
Georgia is also attempting to create conservation easements, however, their plan is to also guarantee each county a maximum reduction in taxes! Amendment 4 does not offer any similar assurances to Florida counties. Due to the dire economic situation in Florida, this may not even be feasible.
Although Amendment 4 has good intentions of preserving pristine land, it does not give assurance that tax payers will not have a huge short-fall in basic county operating budgets starting in 2010. Therefore, please vote NO on Amendment 4 and encourage the amendment be re-written.
- J. Terry Ryan
Return to Current Edition